Ghana seemed like a logical place to visit on a half-term break, so I threw my mountain bike in the back of my red 4X4 and drove from Lomé, the capital of Togo, my home at the time, to the border within 15 minutes.
I was once again reminded how travelling with a bicycle is much easier than a car, at least at borders. I spent my first three hours dealing with red-tape, and sadly having to pay a bit of a bribe to get on my way before nightfall. I drove along the southern coast towards the capital of Accra, but didn't make it. My Mitsubishi Pajero was a temperamental beast and decided to play up frequently. I gave up, and slept for a few hours in between dizzy spells from the heat.
The sun rose quickly, so I got on my bike and cruised around the Songor Lagoon until it got too hot. I then bombed it to the city to find somewhere with air conditioning. Accra is nuts, so I didn't want to hang around for long, and cycling was certainly out of the question. So I continued west towards the castles/forts/prisons of the Cape Coast. This area is steeped in history, but most of the history with a European theme is horrendous and, once again, I was the opposite of proud to be me.
The cycling between the forts on the beach alongside thousands of wooden fishing boats was great. I stopped to play football with some teenagers dressed in premier league favourites. Considering how most Europeans once treated the people of the 'Slave Coast', it was a surprise that I was welcomed the way I was. Maybe they just wanted to laugh at the white man playing on the beach, but I reckon I held my own and even scored, pulling my best England shirt over my face as I celebrated, hands in the air, stumbling. Again, if I had been in my car, rather than on my bike, I doubt I would have been received in the manner that I was.
Most of the native culture and history is difficult to get into in this area, so I was a little bit disappointed by the tourist scene. I decided to stop off at a tree-top walkway in the Kakum National Park which was described as a 'Extreme Experience.' I had to try it, even if I was a bit concerned by the total lack of safety warnings. It was indeed a adrenaline-filled experience, as the wooden bridge walkway swayed between the trees 30 metres up from the ground.
Later that day I continued north in the car, passed rather regal plantations for all sorts of tropical delights. The area became mountainous and was picture-perfect with bright greens and reds all around. I cycled up some hills to get some good snaps, leaving the car near the road. By the time I had, it started to rain heavily and it began to wash out the road. Before long the puddles became ponds, which then became lakes, and I became stuck.
I can surely say that I have never seen darkness like that night. My car had water in the engine, and a flat tyre, so at the first glimmer of light from a town, I stopped at the police station. Within minutes, I had a floor to sleep on and a mechanic arranged for the morning. The storm continued all night and the whole region lost power. It was another sticky night.
Mountain biking the next morning was a proper adventure. I barely saw another person, just cattle and jungle. At one point I thought about abandoning the car and cycling back to Togo, as I was having too much fun in the area. Eventually, the logical part of my brain over-powered the emotional part, so I returned to the town. The mechanic was there to greet me, beaming as he had successfully bodge-jobbed the car, which was ready to go. But I was invited to share a beer or five and some local moonshine, so I stayed another day. Why not hey? This is what travel should be about, feeling what is right and going with the flow. What a wonderful place to immerse oneself. True adventure, totally off-the grid in the heart of Ashanti territory.